Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ingush Detainees Recalled at Moscow Protest, but for Most Russians, Ingushetia Remains Terra Incognita

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Members of the Ingush community took part in the Moscow demonstration calling for the release of protest leaders now detained in Ingushetia, and Russian leaders of the demonstration included some of those Ingush detainees among prisoners who must be freed (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/340680/ and facebook.com/watch/?v=2104388599854934).

            But in a report in Gazeta about her recent visit to Ingushetia, Moscow writer Elizaveta Aleksandrova-Zorina underscored that for most Russians, Ingushetia remains a place unknown unlike its neighbors Daghestan or Chechnya and for most Ingush, this is a source of both regret and alienation (gazeta.ru/column/aleksandrova-zorina/12650959.shtml).

            “There are places in Russia where it is considered obligatory to visit at some point – Kamchatka, say, or Baikal,” she writes. “But there are regions which aren’t ever on such lists. For example, Ingushetia. Even Chechnya – which is more a ‘no go zone’ to which one doesn’t go without a reason or even with one – is a place people talk about constantly.”

            “But Ingushetia literally as it were doesn’t exist.”

            Russians sometimes ask if it is in Chechnya or Daghestan – or even in Siberia. And Ingush when asked what their nationality is sometimes say they’re Chechens because that is a declaration that doesn’t need some long explanation. Their republic attracts attention if at all only on lists of places with “’wild customs.’”   Any good news is simply ignored.

            Russians say “there our laws don’t operate,” and that is true. But if so, Aleksandrova-Zorina says, that is because Ingush have other laws and they live by them “thanks to the all-powerful nature of the law enforcement organs.” You feel this difference as soon as you get off the train in Nazran.  But you feel something else as well, she says.

            And that is far greater freedom than in Ingushetia’s neighbors. This difference is obvioius when, having come by the Moscow-Nazran train, you return back on the Grozny-Moscow one. If in the Nazran train, conversations about politics threaten to never end until the last station, on the Grozny one, passengers go pale and change the subject to something more neutral.”’

            Almost every year in recent history, Ingushetia has lived in a war environment. The people are tired, but one has the sense that those in power in Magas and Moscow find maintaining the conflict both useful to keeping them in power and profitable as well, the Moscow writer says.

            At the same time, Ingushetia share at least one thing in common with Russia today. Magas the capital is a modern city; the countryside isn’t. Like in Russia, people in Magas live in the 21st century, but those who live outside it, live in the 19th.

            In the middle of Nazran, there is a banner declaring “Russia and Ingushetia. Together Forever.” “My friend, having seen it, said with a laugh that this sounds as if they are hostages to one another,” the Moscow writer continues. But she also notes that few are ready to talk about their attitude toward Moscow openly.

            “Doesn’t it seem to you that Russia is always unjust to Ingushetia?” she asked one elder. His response which speaks volumes was “And what does it seem like to you?”  He then observed that nonetheless, “we are part of Russia and that is the way it will be,” even if it only the rare Russian who cares about Ingushetia or knows anything about her people.

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